Florida Museum of Natural History

Tab with dracula orchids collage

 

 

ORCHIDS THAT RESEMBLE MUSHROOMS? DRACULA (PLEUROTHALLIDINAE)

The orchid pollination system are some of the most interesting aspects of nature, they are very diverse, labile and in most cases orchid flower attract their pollinator by deceit by mimicking other flowers or organisms, and no floral reward is provided (i.g. nectar, pollen grains, oils).

Around 1998 I started to investigate the pollination of the pleurothallid orchids Dracula. The hallmark of these orchids is a lip that resembles an inverted mushroom cap. For this reason, it was suspected that Dracula orchids mimic mushrooms to attract its pollinators, insects that will complete their life cycles on mushrooms. Who pollinates these orchids? (Van der Pijl & Dodson 1966, Vogel 1978, Kaiser 1993)

The majority of the species of this genus have narrowly restricted distributions and are found in forest with very little or now intervention. I have always wondered why?

In order to answer these two questions and understand if there are differences in the pollinator frequency of widespread vs. narrow endemics I worked with Dracula species that live in biotic sympatry in the Los Cedros Biological Reserve where14 Dracula species have been reported.

After many hours in the field and still fall to answer all my hypotheses, now I can answer mi first question: Who pollinates these orchids?

Small dipterans of the genus Zygothrica remove and deposit pollinia loads on the Dracula species studied. The Zygothricas flies (superficially similar to the fruit flies) complete part of their life cycle on mushroom surfaces, where they breed, lay eggs and in some cases they feed on mushroom tissues or yeasts that grow on the mushroom surfaces.

The pollination mechanisms and more information of this interesting system are currently been published and will be made accessible in this page. Additional research on Dracula orchids is currently been conducted at Oregon University.

Publications and media

Endara L., D. A. Grimaldi , B. A. Roy. 2010. Lord of the flies: Pollination of Dracula orchids. Lankesteriana. 10(1):1-11

This project has been mentioned by :
• Smithsonian magazine and website
• Halloween special of the American Museum of Natural Histroy website

The pollination mechanisms and more information of this interesting system are currently been published and will be made accessible in this page. Additional research on Dracula orchids is currently been conducted at Oregon University.

Acknowledgements

This research was financed by GEF, Act.16 and, its second phase by the San Diego County Orchid Society. Renato Valencia and Nigel Pitman were the advisors of the project. The determination of the flies was initially performed by Doris Vela and determination to species level was performed by David Grimaldi . The staff of Los Cedros Biological Reserve was fundamental for the project.

 

| Florida Museum of Natural History | FLAS Herbarium | Lorena Endara's Orchid Projects (FLAS)| Contact: lendara@flmnh.ufl.edu ©2009 FLMNH